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Climate Change: The Earth Shall Win, People Shall Lose!

November 20, 2013

dinosaursPrologue: To the discredit of the author, this piece offers no solution to the waging of war on climate change.  It is merely a reflection on the failure of all efforts to prevent what appears to be the inevitable.  In a cowardly shirking of responsibility, the baton is passed to future generations for them to stem the tides of an Earth out of control.  The remaining hope is that we raised our children to be smarter than us.  I expect the ardent supporters of President Obama to meet my words with an ideological backlash, but don’t, give up on me just yet. Just wait until I’ve told the story.

Once upon a time, there was a wanderer named Goldilocks.  She looked for a place to live.  Pretty soon, she came upon our solar systems.  Inside, there were three possible homes. She studied these planets carefully.

“This planet nearest the sun she named Venus is too hot!” she exclaimed.

So, she went to the furthest of the three from the sun.

“This planet she named Mars is too cold,” she said

So, she visited the middle planet.

“Ahhh, this planet she named Earth is just right,” she said happily and moved in.

Goldilocks raised a family. The family grew and prospered, until one day she looked upon her home.

“Someone’s been careless with Earth,” it’s starting to look like Venus she growled.

“Someone’s been eating Earth’s resources and they ate them all up!” she cried.

“Someone’s been playing with the air we breathe and they’ve broken it all to pieces,” she breathlessly grumbled.

“Someone’s been US and doing little about it!” exclaimed Goldilocks.

She screamed, “Help!”  And she jumped in desperation for a fix.  Goldilocks looked again to the planets, opened the sky, and raced to Mars.  And she never returned to her home now left shamelessly in shambles.

A child’s story, perhaps! From world wars to weapons of mass destruction, the 20th and 21st centuries have events of major worldwide concern. Yet, the news this week about “Arctic Temperatures Reaching the Highest Levels in 44,000 Years” makes all other events pale in comparison.

Certainly, there are naysayers–so be it. The truth is all around us. It’s indisputable: atmospheric CO2 has reached levels never seen in recorded history, the earth is getting warmer and the global community is consuming more fossil fuels. The initial wounds are so deep it matters little that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries.  There is little one can add or detract.  Vivid images tell it all – crying children left homeless from vicious tropical cyclones, massive icebergs breaking off every ice haven on earth, and drought-stricken areas competing for vanishing water supplies. No science required, no statistical proof is necessary, no debates are needed; only the ability to sense reality is required to see what no society has ever witnessed before.

The debate over the human influence on climate change is settled.  There is universal agreement within the international community that humanity is the dominant cause of atmospheric and oceanic warming, diminishing amounts of snow and ice, rising global mean sea levels and skyrocketing concentrations of greenhouse gases. Adding to sobering conclusion, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated, “there is enough space in the atmosphere for about 309 billion metric tons of carbon, or about 22 years of emissions at current levels, for a chance to prevent runaway climate change.”

The concern is not what is or even what will be, but whether something can be done about it. Have we gone past the point of no return?  Even if all of humankind would quantitatively stop using carbon-based fuels today, it is doubtful there would be any significant changes in the near future. Our ability to go completely off the carbon grid is without exception a virtual impossibility. We are on a runaway freight train with no practical way to bring it under control.

The rash of apocalyptic events is not recent news. In 634 BCE Romans feared the city (Rome) would come to an end on the 120th year of its founding.  Even today, scientists such as Dr. James Kasting, a world renowned Harvard-educated geoscientist, predict the world will become uninhabitable in 500 million years when the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will “drop.”  Drop – that a new twist!   We do know of the Great Dying, which some 250 million years ago wiped out 90-95 percent of all life on earth.  After that, it took 30 million years for life to recover. Then some 65 million years ago, a collision with a celestial object ended the age of the dinosaur. Interestingly, that cataclysm gave rise to mammals and of course, humanity.

Through eons of continuing destruction, the earth endures. Whether humanity survives is a more profound question. In what seems to be an esoteric waste of time, scientists are beginning to discuss ways to prevent yet another catastrophic impact with an asteroid, comet or meteoroid.  In the short term, it seems more likely we will destroy ourselves by whatever means is at hand. Nevertheless, people the world over can rest assured in the knowledge that technology could come to our rescue when it comes to space rocks of mass destruction.

To our everlasting disgrace, the same technological prowess that is focusing on futuristic events of total destruction is helpless when it comes to more immediate needs like dealing with the damaging consequences of CO2 in the sky. In fairness, the technologists who giveth the tools that produce these gases are not solely responsible to taketh them away. Political, geopolitical, socioeconomic, industrial and consumer pressures far outrun scientists’ powers to affect the course of environmental degradation.

Globally, the U.S. has the world’s highest reported per capita CO2 emissions at 18 tonnes emitted per person. Meanwhile, China is reported to emit more CO2 than the US and Canada put together and India ranks as the world’s third biggest emitter of CO2. Adding to the growing problems in the  developing world,  some of the world’s smallest countries and islands emit the highest levels of CO2 per person with the worst offender being Gibraltar at 152 annual tonnes per person.

World carbon dioxide emissions by country

Source: The Guardian:

A 2013 report “Trends in Global CO2 Emissions” by Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency concluded: “Actual global emissions of CO2 reached a new record of 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012. Yet, the increase in global CO2 emissions in that year slowed down to 1.1% (or 1.4%, not accounting the extra day in the leap year), which was less than half the average annual increase of 2.9% over the last decade. This improvement signals a shift towards less fossil-fuel-intensive activities, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving.  We are still experiencing cumulative increases every year . Since CO2 lives for 100 years in the atmosphere, we will still be unable to meet a 2C (carbon used in metal production, primarily in blast furnaces) target for 2050.”

In the wake of U.N. climate talks in Warsaw known as the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19), global attempts to control emissions have arrived stillborn.  The European reported on November 7, 2013, “there is little global will for an overarching agreement akin to the failed Kyoto protocol; big CO2 emitters had no limits (China and India), or left (the US), or didn’t keep their promises (Canada); and full implementation of Kyoto would, by the end of the century, have reduced temperatures by an immeasurable 0.05°C, despite costing about $200bn annually.”

The European further states, “Yet there is a very different option that is not even on the agenda: instead of pouring more money into still very inefficient renewables, we could make massive but much cheaper investments in research and development into new energy sources. The world is already spending about $1bn a day on renewables – $359bn in 2013. $100bn a year invested worldwide in research & development (R&D) would be hundreds of times more effective, a panel of economists, including three Nobel laureates, found in a Copenhagen Consensus on Climate study. This would increase global R&D tenfold and would cost much, much less – only 0.2 per cent of global GDP.”

For new ideas to bring about change, the precepts behind the failure must be the point of focus. Investment in new energy sources is hardly the answer. The aftershock of yet another vision that is divorced from reality resonates with the futile sweat of a desperate world trying to hold back the hands of time. Each nation, each industry and each company has its own agenda, political accord and economic basis that for the most part is immiscible with the others. The collective notion is there, the practical sense is not. Giving up is certainly not the answer! That the world has given up is probably true. How best the global community can effectively, work together in unison to achieve the shared goal of combating climate change is the Holy Grail of the modern age.

A report in Renewable Energy World stated, “feed-in-tariff incentive programs used mostly in Europe and Central Asia to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy, have become a primary concern for policy makers in many countries. Whether the rising costs are recovered from ratepayers or taxpayers, they can create both political and economic pressures. Households in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to rising tariffs, as spending on energy accounts for a larger share of their incomes than for households in developed countries.”

A proposal by the BDI Industry Federation of Germany said, “Germans are now paying more for electricity than any other nation in the European Union except Cyprus and Denmark. BDI, which represents about 100,000 companies including Siemens AG (SIE) and Volkswagen AG (VOW) wants to get rid of feed-in tariffs that guarantee owners of new clean-energy plants above-market payments for 20 years under the EEG renewable law. Instead, it wants developers to sell their power on the market to encourage output that responds to demand rather than whether the wind is blowing or the sun shining.  Pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to change the subsidy system is growing. The VCI chemical lobby, Germany’s biggest utility industry groups VKU and BDEW as well as the Free Democratic Party, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, have previously called to phase out or halt feed-in tariffs.”

On November 15, Reuters stated, “The Japanese government decided to target a 3.8 percent emissions cut by 2020 versus 2005 levels. That amounts to a 3 percent rise from a U.N. benchmark year of 1990 and the reversal of the previous target of a 25 percent reduction.” The Inter Press Service News Agency went on to say, “Japan, the fifth largest emitter of CO2, is just the latest to abandon its international commitments. Japan’s renege on its carbon emissions pledge, likely ending any hope global warming can be kept to 2.0 degrees C.”

The New York Times published on November 15, 2013, “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed reducing the amount of ethanol that is required to be mixed with the gasoline supply, the first time it has taken steps to slow down the drive to replace fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy.  The move was expected, but it drew bitter complaints from advocates of ethanol, including some environmentalists, who see the corn-based fuel blend as a weapon to fight climate change. It was also unwelcome news to farmers, who noted that the decision came at a time when a record corn crop is expected, and the price of a bushel has fallen almost to the cost of production. We’re all just sort of scratching our heads here today and wondering why this administration is telling us to burn less of a clean-burning American fuel,” said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association.”

In what has to be the irony of ironies, BBC News reported on November 17, 2013, that “environmental groups have sharply criticized the Polish government for hosting a coal industry meeting while UN climate talks are held in the country. The World Coal Association believes that coal is an important part of the energy mix right now and is growing in many parts of the world. They say that coal accounts for 41% of the world’s electricity and in 20 years’ time is still expected to be providing a quarter of the world’s primary energy, the same level it was at in 1980.”

On the bright side, the Cato Institute recently announced, “Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States from the production and consumption of energy have been on the decline since about 2005, after generally being on the rise ever since our country was first founded. The decline in emissions between 2012 and 2011 was 3.8 percent, which, according to the Energy Information Administration was the largest decline in a non-recession year since 1990 and the first time that CO2 emissions fell while the per capita economic output increased by more than 2 percent.  In other words, we are producing more while emitting less carbon dioxide. The big player in 2012 was the continued switch from coal to natural gas for electrical generation.”

Bloomberg noted on October 17, 2013, “China, the top greenhouse-gas emitter, is seeking to cut emissions per unit of economic output by at least 40 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.” Huffington Post went on to say, China is closing heavily polluting factories, prohibiting new coal-fired power plants in major industrial regions, and investing more in renewable energy than any other country in the world.  It is experimenting with CO2 cap and trade programs, debating a carbon tax and drafting a climate change law. NRDC (the National Development and Reform Commission People’s Republic of China) is also working with China’s top energy experts to develop a comprehensive, enforceable program that will put a nationwide cap on coal consumption, the leading contributor to climate change.  However, China’s actions are driven not just by climate change, but by other reasons such as energy security and the need to address choking levels of air pollution.  Moreover, enforcement of laws, policies and programs remains a major challenge in China, in large part because of strong resistance from vested interests including state-owned fossil fuel companies and local government leaders who profit from polluting industries.

In closing, world policy on climate change is in a state of universal decrepitude. Despite all the agreements and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent in green technologies, CO2 emissions climbed 57 percent since 1990. Could the issue be just too complex to do anything about it on the world stage? The interest in doing something is certainly there.  Is humanity truly capable of banding together to do the right thing? That is the question.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2013 6:18 AM

    Not to worry! The planet will “inform” our species how to behave, and we will come into alignment with the cosmic dance rather than the line dance. “Corporation Earth” will be the only loser; the people will endure.

  2. December 22, 2013 6:35 AM

    The only loser will be “Corporation Earth”, and that will be a victory for the people. Life will be more difficult, and more rewarding, but we need to prepare rather than pretend. Check The Tags: permaculture, localization, homesteading, etc. The people will prevail!

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